MAN OF STEEL (Zack Synder, 2013)
I remember from way back, not sure if it was from a movie, or a TV show, or a conversation with a friend this question: what separates Superman from the rest of the superheroes, say Batman, or Spider-Man? The answer of course, is that Superman was born Superman, and Clark Kent is his cover identity, unlike Peter Parker who acquired powers through a spider bite, or Bruce Wayne who has to wear rubber nipples (I swear the joke originated from Tilda Swinton!).
So what, say you? So he really is a SUPER hero. He is great in the greatest sense of the word, because he defends the human race even though he is not one of them (arguably, if you're going to point out technicalities).
MAN OF STEEL works as a SUPERMAN movie, and as a reboot movie for that matter because it has the element also present in IRON MAN 3 and CAPTAIN AMERICA and THE DARK KNIGHT- its heart in the right place, a matter most absent in THE GREEN LANTERN and SUPERMAN RETURNS. Zack Snyder and company knew where, when and how to trigger our emotional vulnerability. Hint: every time Kevin Costner is onscreen is a cue for some tears. Also, I don't know why I started crying but I did, but Superman as a young boy fearful of his heightened senses was pretty effective for me.
And the remarkable and most important thing to commend other than the quality of the script is the amount of dedication every cast member rendered. Diane Lane as Martha Kent is as motherly as anyone can get, so when General Zod and company are bullying her for information, and Superman furiously rants to Zod, "YOU THINK YOU CAN THREATEN MY MOTHER?," there ought to be some slow clap.
Henry Cavill as Superman is muscular, gentle, but also the simpleton guy who is searching for answers. Not for one moment you'd mistake him as a bad guy. Meanwhile, Amy Adams as Lois Lane is not too sweet (oh my god that horrible LEAP YEAR!) nor too headstrong (I still prefer the looks of Kate Bosworth in SUPERMAN RETURNS as Lois) and the thing I liked best about her depiction of Lois Lane is that she didn't arrive as much of a damsel in distress. She's a reporter but she's up there with the big boys, not just hanging off a cliff somewhere waiting for rescue. Of course, there are moments when Superman rushes to her aid but that's beside the point.
Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Superman's father is incredibly solid and superb, compelling even. This makes us want to forgive him for LES MISERABLES. Almost. However, Crowe need not be appearing every time like an unwanted ghost. The shit is creepy. It's like SAVING THE EARTH FOR DUMMIES, with step-by-step instructions from Jor-El.
Nothing beats Marlon Brando's Jor-El. Even in voice over, the man is able to send shivers up our spine. Good thing that this isn't a competition, and Crowe gives one hell of a performance for his character.
The thrill of the entire film is mainly because of Michael Shannon, who as General Zod is authentically menacing. The man knows how to diction his way out of an argument, and if he threatens you, you crumble.
Story-wise, the film incorporates much of the stories from SUPERMAN 1 and 2, and told in a nonlinear fashion. The flashbacks, done tastefully did not seem awkward at all. The film rarely breaks continuity, or mood.
Why MAN OF STEEL surpasses SUPERMAN RETURNS is due to a number of reasons: the filmmakers drop the humor (save for a one-liner by a female army captain in the end) in favor of a more heartwarming storytelling; the story is easy to understand, and it doesn't drag with unnecessary scenes, and; although I enjoyed Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor in SUPERMAN RETURNS (the man is an acting god), General Zod is way a better threat to Superman because they are of the same race, and the causes they fight for are pretty much the same. Hence, it is hard to destroy an opponent whose intentions are valid.
Pretty obvious is that the dialogue in the film were well-thought of (David S. Goyer has extensive background in adapting comic books to film). Lines like "you want to know where I hang my cape," and "your'e the answer, son. The answer to 'are we alone in the universe?' " don't come often anymore.
MAN OF STEEL may in fact be the greatest achievement of Zack Snyder's career, also thanks to a dark but inspiring vision by Christopher Nolan who serves as producer. The film is concise, not overly melodramatic, and pays respect to its predecessors. Oh, and lest we forget, thank heavens for Superman's laser beam shooting out of his eyes! The geek-o-meter just went overboard.